Ashland Review: The Yeomen of the Guard

Apr 19, 2016

Dorothy Velasco has this review of "The Yeomen of the Guard" at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland.

Michael Sharon and Britney Simpson
Credit photo Jenny Graham

Next time you visit the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, you can wear your cowboy duds to see the Gilbert and Sullivan musical comedy,  “The Yeomen of the Guard.”
Join a crowd onstage at a wild west saloon, buy a drink, ride a hobby horse, talk back and break rules.
The director, Sean Graney, calls this promenade theater and it’s unlike anything you’ve seen at the festival. Up to 75 spectators sit onstage, while others choose conventional seating.
You may ask: Gilbert and Sullivan with a country western twang? You betcha. This adaptation by Chicago-based Graney, as well as Audra Velis Simon and Matt Kahler, transforms a pun-filled British yarn into cowboy cornpone.
You’ll recognize the characters. Fairfax is a good man wrongly condemned to die. Sweet Phoebe pines for him. Shadbolt the Jailor is bowlegged and filthy, but whenever someone thanks him he politely replies, “yer welcome.”
Carruthers, a female prison warden played by K.T. Vogt in a Dolly Parton wig, wants Fairfax to die unmarried because she, as his relative, will inherit a family fortune. But Fairfax quickly marries lovely Elsie, a traveling musician. Complications ensue.
All of the actors play musical instruments — banjo, accordion, guitars and more. The action is lively, even chaotic, because of the spectators crowded onto the thrust stage at the intimate Thomas Theatre. I’m not convinced there’s any advantage to having them there since their only function is to dash out of the way of the actors.
The plot is amusing but feather light. Jerome Peter Johnson as Fairfax and Kate Hurster as Elsie, last year’s dynamic leads in “Guys and Dolls,” deserve roles with depth. The rest of the cast is equally outstanding, despite their own superficial roles.
But there’s fun to be had. If you enter the theater half an hour early, you can take part in the pre-show high jinks, talk to the actors, and examine the cleverly detailed set. It’s almost a flash mob.
The show itself is only 90 minutes long. Considering all the distractions that keep us from feeling anxious about the outcome, 90 minutes is long enough.